Application of molecular markers in breeding for nitrogen use efficiency

Hesham A. Agrama*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is defined as dry matter yield produced per unit of N supplied and available in the soil. NUE is approximately 33% for cereal production worldwide. Increased cereal NUE must accompany increased yield needed to feed the growing world population. Consequently, continued efforts are needed to include plant selection under low N input which is not often considered a priority by plant breeders. Molecular markers have accelerated plant breeding in a number of areas including biotic (disease and insect) resistance and abiotic (drought, low nitrogen fertilization and frost) tolerance. Marker-based technology has already provided scientists with a powerful approach for identifying and mapping quantitative trait loci (QTL) and would lead to the development of a better understanding of genetic phenomena. Two main NUE studies have been discussed. The first study identified QTL for NUE in maize involved the grain yield and secondary morphological traits of interest, such as plant height, ear leaf area, ears per plant and kernels per ear. This was compared with second study of QTL for yield and its components with genes encoding cytolistic gultamine synthestase and leaf NO 3- content. These secondary traits were correlated with yield and demonstrated segregation with high heritability under low nitrogen conditions. Marker assisted selection (MAS) should be able to offer significant advantages in cases where phenotypic screening is particularly expensive or difficult, including breeding projects involving multiple genes, recessive genes, late expression of the trait of interest, seasonal considerations, or geographical considerations. In addition to reducing costs of conventional breeding, MASalso has the potential to generate time savings. Possibly, the greatest contribution of QTL mapping to plant breeding will be the basic understanding of the genetic architecture of quantitative traits, thereby relating specific genetic loci with the biological mechanisms associated with desirable phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-211
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Crop Improvement
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 16 2006


  • Cost efficiency
  • Crop breeding
  • Mapping
  • Molecular markers
  • NUE
  • QTL

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Genetics
  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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